Kauai Establishes New Indigenous Fishing Rules, Among the First Regulations Created for Fishermen, by Fishermen
By Debbie Kay
In Ha’ena, Kauai, ancient lava tubes sit just off the shoreline, creating a protective reef that keeps large waves from crashing in the area, and providing excellent habitat for many different fish.
The community of Ha’ena sits at the northern tip of the road that rings most of the way around the island of Kauai, forming a backward letter “C” that is interrupted by the sheer mountains of the Na Pali coast. At this tip, ancient lava tubes sit just off the shoreline, creating a protective reef that keeps large waves from crashing in the area, and providing excellent habitat for many different fish. Apart from the parks here, much of the beach is flanked by the second homes of millionaires and billionaires. Thanks to a recent ruling signed by the governor in November of 2015, local fishing regulations have devolved to the indigenous fishing rules, creating Hawaii’s first Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area, or CBSFA.
How the indigenous Fishing Rules Work
Unlike the native fishing rights in places like Alaska, Washington and Oregon, the indigenous fishing rules don’t exclude anyone from fishing here. The regulations merely make others fish the way the indigenous people learned to, which boils down to not taking more than you need. It bans some of the methods of netting and trapping that take large populations of fish, and favor single fish, single line rules instead. This is in line with the way that natives traditionally fished. They would take enough fish for the family to eat that day, instead of for a week. If they wanted fish the next day, they would return to fish again. The indigenous fishing rules for the area were based on fisherman surveys and elder interviews, creating a true fisherman-based protection system.
Protection for Species at Risk
The rule also provides opportunities for species at risk to rebound, by creating moratoriums on their harvest until populations can recover. Limits are set for octopus, lobster and urchins. Marine snails are on a two-year time out for harvest while they are given time to return. In a state that has almost no regulations for shore-based fishing or aquarium collections, this is a huge step forward for one of the island’s most productive fishing regions.
Self-Regulation and Outreach
Much of the enforcement of the rules here is done by the fishers themselves, rather than by the fish and wildlife agency. In the case of natives fishing, this is often all it takes, as there is a strong family connection between the islands, and it only takes a few phone calls to get your own aunt or grandmother very upset if you didn’t obey the rules. Non-natives are as welcome to the area as others, but those who aren’t following the rules will likely get an education from other fishermen nearby, who have formed a sort of neighborhood watch system to teach responsible fishing techniques and limits. If you don’t want to fish like this, you need only to drive south to one of the other fishing areas in Kauai. However, if you want to explore fishing in the traditional way, a trip to Ha’ena is definitely worth it. To learn more visit Hawaii’s DAR.
Want your home water to operate this way? Should all fisheries work this way? Leave a comment.